Nearly a dozen people reported feeling ill after a Friday Alcovy Judicial Christmas luncheon at the Blue Willow Inn Restaurant in Social Circle, leading Walton County health officials to meet with restaurant management Tuesday.
The lunch included judges, assistants and office staff in the Alcovy Judicial District, which covers Newton and Walton counties. Of 23 people from the offices who attended, 11 reported symptoms, including at least two judges. No one was seriously ill.
A representative from the restaurant said they closed Tuesday for lunch to voluntarily meet with the Walton County Health Department, to clean and sanitize the store and to dispose of all prepared food. Health officials allowed the Blue Willow, on North Cherokee Road, to reopen Tuesday evening for dinner.
“We’re working with the Health Department on a voluntary basis and we closed yesterday morning,” Shirley Edgerly, whose mother-in-law Billie Van Dyke owns the Blue Willow, said Wednesday. “We had the department here because they don’t know if it was something we did or that the customers had. There is a virus going around. But we were protecting ourselves and our customers.”
Edgerly said the restaurant was cleaned and sanitized, and employees threw out all prepared food. The Blue Willow was closed for lunch Tuesday, but reopened at 5 p.m. for dinner. Edgerly said there was not an inspection on Tuesday.
“We wanted to make sure everything was clean and sanitized here,” she said. “We threw out all our prepared food and started from scratch. The Health Department has told us the cause was not determined.”
The Health Department was notified on Monday that several people who had eaten there together Friday had gotten ill Saturday. Edgerly said 487 people ate lunch at the Blue Willow Friday.
According to the Walton County Health Department’s website, inspectors visited the Blue Willow on June 28, and the restaurant scored 84 points out of 100, earning a B grade. On a follow-up inspection Sept. 21, it scored 95 points out of 100, earning an A.
The Van Dyke family opened the Blue Willow in 1991. Louis Van Dyke tried to expand on the Willow’s name by building the Blue Willow Village behind the inn. However, the economy collapsed just as the village was opening in 2008 and several would-be tenants backed out of the investment, leaving space intended for retail shops and a religious-themed museum vacant.
The Blue Willow in July 2010 filed bankruptcy, from which it entered a plan to emerge in August. Van Dyke died in November 2010, leading wife Billie, for whom Billie’s Blue Willow was originally named, to take over operations.